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helping people with mega career goals

I gave a speech about career advice and one of my points was to have realistic short term goals. Think 1-3 years out. Make sure you are doing something new this year that you were not doing last year. Keep your eye out for categories you haven't hit yet, and take those to your supervisor when you have discussions and reviews. If you tell him you've never done a test report but would like to, he might very well assign you the next test report. Leaders are need to be versatile - understand lots of things. So if you want to be a future leader, do everything. Keep your eye out for challenges and say yes when they come up.

On the other hand, I said, big huge goals are not as helpful. When an intern tells me he wants to be the CEO someday, I'm not entirely sure how to help him with that. Especially if he's not exactly hitting it out the park as an intern! As a manager I don't want to deflate or demoralize anyone, so when somebody has huge goals it makes me more hesitant to be brutally honest with something they need to improve today... unless they tell me directly they want me to be brutally honest, and assure me that they're ready. This doesn't happen as often as it should.

My advice got mixed reviews in the crowd though. One manager said he had exactly that, an intern who wanted to shoot straight to the top, and you know what? This young person did do very well, moved up faster than others, he's a director or something now and his vision really helped.

I realized that a high percentage of CEOs probably did have ambition that other people thought was too strong. Maybe that'll be my question for senior leaders... who were you at age 23?

But does it work the other way? A high percentage of CEOs have ambition, but do a high percentage of 23 year-olds with ambition become great leaders?

I was ambitious but not in a "I want to climb to the top" way. I wanted to earn respect, I wanted to be the go-to, I wanted my coworkers to think I was smart. At some point along the way, about 5-10 years in, I started asking about leading people.

Where's the balance? Do I sound like a "dang kids get off my lawn" kind of fogey if I tell new hires to calm it down and do next week's job first? When is ambition healthy, and when does it annoyingly get in the way?

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( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
siglinde99
Oct. 10th, 2016 04:26 pm (UTC)
One of my friends says the most useful career advice she has ever gotten (and now gives) is that the best way to prepare for the job you want is to be really good at the job you have right now. Ambition is fine, but don't be too noisy about it. I worked for a while with someone who made no bones about her ambition to achieve the most senior position in our public service. It made her incredibly vulnerable - the slightest slip-up was seen as a huge failure.
astrogeek01
Oct. 10th, 2016 04:30 pm (UTC)
I think it's fine to have huge goals, but I really think your advice of short term goals is really valuable. I mean, you don't get to your huge goal without a lot of shorter steps. It's good to check that your shorter steps are aligning where you want to eventually be, but if you don't have those shorter goals, it's hard to see where to move forward.
ironphoenix
Oct. 10th, 2016 07:59 pm (UTC)
Very much this!
susandennis
Oct. 10th, 2016 04:43 pm (UTC)
One time, when I had been working maybe 3 or 4 years, I had a guy trying to help me decide what I wanted. He asked me to close my eyes and picture my perfect work environment. What the room looks like, what it sounds like, what it smells like, what I'm doing...

I thought it was ridiculous but I couldn't figure out how to get out of it so I did it. The scenario I laid out turned out to be very different than what I had ever done or seen. And then I forgot about it.

Until about a decade later when, one night on a business trip I was having a drink by myself in a hotel bar, just considering my life and things and how lucky I was and how great everything was and all of a sudden I remembered that scenario that that guy had me imagine.

Sweartogod, I was living the worklife that I had envisioned a decade before. Almost nearly exactly. (In my scenario, the office was brick. At the time I was reflecting, my office was mostly glass.) It was freaky and weird and incredibly validating.

It's one of the strangest things that ever happened to me and if it had happened to someone else and they were telling me, I would assume they were embellishing.
wig
Oct. 10th, 2016 06:08 pm (UTC)
Do you have any advice for those of us who like to learn new things and face challenges, but have no interest in managing other people?
sandokai
Oct. 10th, 2016 08:05 pm (UTC)
Really I think it depends a lot on personality. Some people have a very ambitious dream and they are so focused, diligent, hard working, etc. And other people have a very ambitious dream for the wrong reasons (money, prestigue) and it doesn't make them a good worker at all.

I think whether someone's ultimate goal is lofty or not, the advice to look 1-3 years ahead and sent strategic goals shouldn't be that different.
ironphoenix
Oct. 10th, 2016 08:05 pm (UTC)
When an intern tells me he wants to be the CEO someday

Two questions come to mind for the intern:

1: Why?

2: What's even more important to you than that goal?

Society sets up this "yuge" dream of being CEO, and before going all-in on that, I recommend examining it carefully. The CEO title doesn't define winning at life.
dynamicgirl
Oct. 11th, 2016 11:52 am (UTC)
very good advice, and all stuff I agree with. Like you, I've always been ambitious, but I never thought I'd get to the top - I never thought about it, really, I just wanted respect and to work hard. I worked hard, I had a great work ethic. And then one day it occurred to me that "Oh, I could go all the way here".

I love the idea of mostly small goals, too.
mrs_dragon
Nov. 1st, 2016 05:52 pm (UTC)
I think the key is in having the big goals...keeping your mouth mostly shut about them, and identifying the small goals that get you there. If everyone and their dog knows you want to be CEO, you are too much talk and not enough action. If an intern tells their boss "I'm going to be CEO in 5 years", yea buh-bye. If an intern tells their boss "I'd like to be CEO one day so I want to learn everything! Here are the goals I've identified for the next 1-3 years, what do you think I'm missing?" And then works hard for those goals and achieves them. Totally different.

Having big goals is not bad. Feeling entitled to big titles/bonuses/salaries and not wanting to do the work is lethal.
mrs_dragon
Nov. 1st, 2016 05:54 pm (UTC)
As a side note, I always figured I'd be VP/C-suite material. I'm a natural leader, was interested in management and management theory, love to get smart people together and get out of their way...but (a) burning out on my job and (b) seeing what our senior leadership actually does/is required to do...I have zero interest in it anymore. I may come back to it later, but right now all I see is a whole lot of punishment and no reward.
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